We’ve all heard the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Being someone who has read and written words my whole life, I have never quite given much thought to this saying. And then I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and I experienced that epiphanic moment when some old saying suddenly made sense. Persepolis is a graphic novel, something I might not have picked up on my own (and I didn’t; this book was assigned in my ninth-grade English class). But in each frame of this novel exists a new and unique drawing, a picture that combined with the caption on each frame, truly conveys a thousand words. Each expressive eyebrow and curve of the lips, and every shadow paints a fresh perspective of the character it belongs to. Each drawing helped me to understand the complex emotions and dynamics of a country torn apart by war.
Persepolis takes place before, during, and after the Islamic Revolution in war-torn Iran. It is the autobiography of Marjane Satrapi, a young girl growing up under the strain of war and later, the oppression of Islam. Marjane strives to understand the world around her. She wants to be like the grown-ups, who talk about communism and executions, and who get to protest on the street. She wishes that her parents were war heroes so that she too could have riveting stories to tell in the school yard. As a child, Marjane is affected for the first time when she and the other girls are forced to wear the traditional Islamic veil over their heads in public. But Marjane grows up and experiences the conflict firsthand, she learns that war is not quite the romantic and heroic story that she has believed it to be. Marjane grows into a teenager who not only grasps the true concepts behind the revolution, but begins to wage her own rebellions, as teenagers are wont to do. She learns what it means to be Iranian during the war, and what it means to be a woman.
One truly unique aspect of this book is that the reader can see clearly how Marjane’s views on the world change as she grows older. Marjane matures and changes like any child, but it is so fascinating to see how war can affect that change. She witnesses violence and inequality at such a young age, which truly changes how she sees her country and the people around her. Another thing I loved about Persepolis was that I learned so much about Iran and the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s and ‘80s. Throughout middle school and high school history, I have learned so much about the exploration and colonization about the Americas, and the thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, but never about Islam or the 1979 Revolution surrounding Iran. As I started reading Persepolis, I was confused because I was reading about an event that I had never studied. But I finished Persepolis, not only with knowledge of the history behind the Revolution, but with an understanding of Marjane’s feelings and emotions about the war. I learned more than I ever could from a history textbook.
There are so many reasons I recommend this book: because it gives the reader a deeper understanding of war in the Middle East, and how it affected one girl. It helps the reader to understand what growing up is like. We all do it eventually, but it varies from person to person, and Marjane’s story is thought-provoking and inspiring. All of the small details in the words and the pictures of this book add up to depict a beautiful story about a girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution.